This is what it was like in the early 80s. I was accepted to the very first class of the Governor’s School for the Arts, in the Theater program. We worked in a scene shop, with a dance master, and on an overarching production which had each of us developing a character through the weeks of the program. Graduation was our final production.
An ensemble piece being a necessity, and kids being what we were at that time, the semi-improvisational work had us as a gang. (You never saw a bunch so scary since Riff and Rita Moreno, man.) I remember a field trip we took wandering a few streets and then (why, natch) one of the oldest park cemeteries in America – in character, as our gang. I strongly associate the Peter Gunn theme with this day’s outing; presumably *someone* had a boom box and played it for us, to keep us in our personae as a bunch of street (I titter even to write it) toughs. Here we have Point the First. (Wait for it.)
Thirty-plus years on, I am fascinated by the fact that I ended up as something like the romantic lead in this enterprise. I still remember my leading man, on whom I crushed very obediently both to the script and to my nature, and with whom nothing ever happened. I remember the climactic moment of the play – a gaggle of the girls, holding me back physically as I leapt toward him (why yes, he did call his character Riff, why do you ask? (mine was Josie)). I can recall the feel of arms around my belly as I fought to get toward my doomed leading boy at the moment the dooming crested and Got Real.
There were pics of us in the newspaper; I still have them somewhere. A whole piece on the Governor’s school; taking a look at the little white theater dorks playing at Scary Hoodlum Time – our process, our walk in the park too, I suppose.
One of the classes, as mentioned, was set painting. Each of us had a flat of our own, and we were to do brick walls. These were, you guessed it, used as the set for the eventual play. Mean streets of no-such-place-ever-existed.
This is pretty much the pinnacle and entire extent of my acting career. (About my earlier stint as Elvira DeSanto in The Brick and the Rose, *we do not speak*, though that went to State in the high school one-act competitions. Oh, please, Tommy. Get help. A play about hard life and drugs. Point the Second.)
And yet, I majored in Theater. Well, at my Podunk college, Theatre and Dance (sigh). Yes, I know, to all who have ever known me, virtually or in life, this has never yet surprised a soul.
It surprises pretty few that my college years are what drove me out of theater-of-any-spelling permanently. I joke sometimes majoring in theater was what made a writer of me, but truth be told that was JRW, and took quite some years.
So, Governor’s School.
Never mind that the play we were working on was a matter of well-off kids’ wish fulfillment: I was still at an age it meant a lot to me not to be privileged, though of course we hadn’t institutionalized that word for it quite yet.
One of our assignments in the scene shop was to do a flat of clouds. In 1986, to find a photo of clouds to grid and reproduce on a flat was not a mere matter of a Google search; I remember going home and tearing apart my parents’ Time magazines. We didn’t really have a lot of periodicals in the house, and using a newspaper was of course worse than pointless (though NOW, of course, I can think “that would have been edgy” – but then: the trick was to find a particular type of photograph). Pictures of, I don’t know, Reagan and Reeboks and whatever other 80s things we were immured with in what once passed for popular media. Okay, it was JOURNALISM, an thing no longer extant, but a bitch of a place to find usable color glossies of clouds.
I ended up with the plume off a factory smokestack. Of course.
The thing that’s funny about this is that people thought I was Being Edgy and Weird – making a STATEMENT – being cynical, political, in-your-face, angry about something maybe. Some perhaps delighted in the subversiveness of pollution-as-cloud.
But, really, I couldn’t find anything else! Southern Living is too deadly-closed-up focused on flowers, cakes, and oppressive décor to threaten any chance of finding a cloud anywhere. I already covered the problem with newsprint. And we didn’t have any other subscriptions.
Well, Science, but I was not ABOUT to be cutting up my dad’s Science issues – no, or National Geographic, either. Of course we had shelves loaded with those. We were Americans of A Certain Era. Duh.
So Time was really all I had. We were not an entertainment mag family, and infotainment really was in its barest infancy in those days anyway.
Smokestack. I was MAD it was my only option, and probably still cranky even though people thought I was being meta, before meta was a thing. Heck before “a thing” was even a thing.
So … people thought this thing about me.
I’ve gotten used to it, over the years. Being presumed to be saying something I am not. Being presumed to be angry, an ogre, in-your-face, pungently personalitized, a bloody monster, you name it.
I have a pretty indelible personal presence, even online I am often mistaken for a raging maniac, or at least a bull in a china shop. I see y’all clutching your pearls when I happen by, don’t you think I don’t know.
The funny thing is, living inside my own head, even my wayward heart – it’s a pretty quiet place, really.
Not only am I not exciting, I am not an especially passionate person. It takes rather a lot to engage me, to enflame me.
But people see what they see. Think what they think. I modulate where it’s necessary, know how I come across. With age, I sense less “MONSTER!” than “blowsy lunatic lady”, but the effect still has always felt, to me, out of proportion to the catalyst.
It’s always been fun getting credit for creativity I didn’t have. And inspires me to try and have some that is real. Is my own.